09.03.2018 | How Axpo keeps the balance between business and environmental interests

The environmental diplomat

Nadia Semadeni is constantly on the move for Axpo and the environment. Her core business is finding a balance between these different interests; maintaining objectivity is the guiding principle; proven competence is the foundation of her work.

Every refurbishment, upgrade or new construction of an Axpo power plant requires an environmental impact evaluation. Negative impacts must be prevented, minimised or compensated through ecological measures. The basic premise: If the environment is impacted, compensation and replacement must be provided elsewhere.

Environmental studies can relate to individual measures, for example the ecological repercussions of replacing the rake in a run-of-river power plant with a more fine-meshed model. However, studies can also relate to the impact of large-scale projects on the entire ecosystem. By far the largest such project in the last decade – for Axpo and the environment – was the construction of the Limmern pumped storage plant. Nadia Semadeni was involved from the outset.

Pierre-Jacques Frank, specialist engineer in Environment/Water Management, performing a discharge measurement using a salt refraction method on the Calancasca River in his fishing boots.

Ricardo Mendez, water and fish biologist in Environment/Water Management, placing markers in the Vorderrhein riverbed for hydro peaking studies.

Nadia Semadeni, environmental engineer, Head of Environment/Water Management, inspecting the secondary catchment Val Val of the Kraftwerke Vorderrhein together with David Schmid from the Office for Nature and Environment of the Canton of Grisons.

Guido Hirzel, specialist engineer in Environment/Water Management, flying his multi-copter over the Hinterrhein for hydro peaking studies.

Round table with angles and edges

In 2005, Nadia Semadeni came to the table with representatives of local authorities and environmental organisations in the Canton of Glarus to discuss the large-scale project with intention of identifying and finding solutions for different concerns and requirements.

Dialogue is very important to Nadia Semadeni: „Of course, as the representative of the power plant company, our interests are not the same as those of the authorities or environmental organisations. But when we discuss these and establish a factual basis, we can develop solutions together that are ultimately acceptable for all sides.“

A round table is by no means a tea party: Hard bargains are driven here based on expert reports; compromises require equal doses of persistence, determination and negotiation skills. Confidentiality is a priority for Mrs. Semadeni: „The first rule at a round table is that no disclosures are made to the outside. Each party must be able to present viewpoints openly. More importantly, it must be possible accept concessions without losing face. That can only be achieved when we discuss on a professional level and leave politics and overriding topics outside the room.“

This cooperative approach is actively cultivated for all larger Axpo projects. Broadly supported solutions can only be developed through cooperation with the various parties in order to avoid appeals and lengthy legal proceedings. The Limmern PSP was realised without a single legal appeal. This is rare for an infrastructure project of this magnitude and at the same time a compliment for the efforts of all the parties involved.

Legislation creates work

There are hardly any new constructions projects planned at Axpo for the upcoming years. However, Nadia Semadeni and her team will not be twiddling their thumbs. On the contrary: „We certainly won’t run out of work,“ she smiles. „We have over 50 smaller and larger projects in the pipeline that have to fulfil the new Water Protection Act. The issues here are eliminating the adverse effects of hydro peaking (water level increase/decrease), fish migration and bed-load balance. In the area of fish migration the focus is on making migration possible up as well as downstream.“ Last year, Axpo installed a state-of-the-art fish ladder at the Eglisau power plant.

Round tables with authorities and associations in four cantons are also going on for the remaining seven residual water remediation projects. As the representative of the power plant companies, Nadia Semadeni is closely involved in the discussions and the projects, and frequently on the road. It is important to her that no isolated, special solutions are created among these numerous projects. This could cause an undesirable domino effect that would impact other power plants. So it is crucial for Mrs. Semadeni to always keep the focus on the big picture. „Sometimes, it would be easier to give someone a „goodie“ and end the discussions more quickly. But I have to keep my focus on Axpo’s overall interests. Small actions can quickly have major consequences here."

Protecting and sustaining the environment – a topic of interest

The opposing interests and complex issues of protecting and sustaining the environment are becoming increasingly apparent through the expansion of renewable energies. The concrete shaping of the energy future raises questions: Should it be possible to build wind farms in ecologically sensitive areas? Does it make sense to obstruct a mountain stream for a few kilowatt-hours of electricity? How can densely populated Switzerland create compensations for these interventions?

The interest in these issues is strong, and another reason why the visitors’ tours at the Limmern pumped storage plant include a stronger focus on the environment. Axpo is regularly invited to give lectures by universities or authorities in order to offer practical insights from the builder’s viewpoint. Nadia Semadeni gladly takes on this task: „These presentations give us the opportunity to provide a differentiated viewpoint from our perspective. The first step towards good collaboration is a mutual understanding of the issues and requirements. If we can do that, we’ve already achieved a great deal.“ That creates a true energy dialogue.

About Nadia

Name: Nadia Semadeni

Function: Head of Environment and Water Management at Axpo

Your commitment: Fact-based compliance to environmental legislation involving the hydroelectric power plants of the Axpo Group

Your priority: Open, fact-based dialogue with work colleagues and the representatives of other interest groups

Your motto: Mastering daily challenges with a positive attitude

Your hobbies: Exploring nature with my family, experiencing the different facets of water

What you’ve always wanted to do: See the unspoilt rivers of New Zealand and explore them by foot or on a kayak tour.

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